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Is It COVID-19 Or Is It Really Lyme Disease You Have?

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
COVID-19 and Lyme disease share symptoms

An ecologist warns that your diagnosed symptoms for COVID-19 might just really be due to Lyme Disease.


COVID-19 and Lyme Disease Share Symptoms

According to a recent article published in The Conversation, ecologist and Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Richmond, Dr. Jory Brinkerhoff, makes a good point that should serve as a warning to gardeners and everyone else who is taking to the great outdoors as a much-needed reprieve form COVID-19 social distancing.

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The main point behind Dr. Brinkerhoff’s warning is that “…Lyme disease shares a number of symptoms with COVID-19, including fever, achiness and chills. Anyone who mistakes Lyme disease for COVID-19 could unknowingly delay necessary medical treatment, and that can lead to severe, potentially debilitating symptoms.” More to the point: if you begin to experience “summer flu” symptoms, seek medical help immediately.

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While most outdoors types are aware of the tell-tale bullseye (also known as the Erythema chronicum migrans rash) that is a sign of tick bite infection and Lyme disease, it bears the reminder that this occurs in only 70-80 percent of those infected.

Moreover, there are multiple other diseases transmitted by tick bites that may not have a tell-tale bite mark that the bitten need to take into consideration and seek help when needed. Often, a course of antibiotics will cure the infection.

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However, if untreated due to a shrugging off by the bitten as a “summer flu “or misdiagnosed by a physician, health complications are nearly-assured that can include painful arthritis, cognitive problems, neurological and cardiac disorders. Hence, Dr. Brinkerhoff’s other primary point: let your physician know that you have been outdoors and could potentially have been bitten by a disease-carrying tick.

However, even if you have not been to the great outdoors, but remained home instead, your backyard could become a tick hot zone due to unsafe gardening practices and the tendency of many animal types (like wandering deer, raccoons and coyotes) to visit suburban areas for food.

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Signs and Symptoms of Coronavirus and Lyme Disease

As a reminder of the signs and symptoms of Coronavirus and how they compare to the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, here is what you should look for according to CDC guidelines:


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Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

--Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
--Muscle pain
--Sore throat
--New loss of taste or smell

Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

--Trouble breathing
--Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
--New confusion
--Inability to wake or stay awake
--Bluish lips or face


Early Signs and Symptoms (3 to 30 Days After Tick Bite)

• Fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
• Appearance of an Erythema migrans (EM) rash which begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of 3 to 30 days (average is about 7 days) and expands gradually over several days reaching up to 12 inches or more (30 cm) across.
• Tick bite may feel warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful.
• Tick bite sometimes clears as it enlarges, resulting in a target or “bull’s-eye” appearance that may appear on any area of the body and does not always appear as a “classic” erythema migrans rash.

Later Signs and Symptoms (days to months after tick bite)

• Severe headaches and neck stiffness.
• Additional EM rashes on other areas of the body.
• Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face).
• Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
• Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones.
• Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat.
• Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath.
• Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
• Nerve pain.
• Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.

What You Can (and should) Do

For Lyme disease and other tick-borne disease protection, avoidance of becoming bitten is the best prevention, followed by what to do if bitten:

• Wear long sleeves and long pants with the pants legs tucked inside your shoes or socks.
• Apply a tick repellant—such as permethrin—to your shoes and pants legs.
• Check yourself thoroughly for ticks when you get home; and if possible, enlist the help of a de-ticking buddy.
•. And, if you do get bitten, try to save the offending tick in a small container for identification and possible testing.

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Reference:Lyme disease symptoms could be mistaken for COVID-19, with serious consequences” by Dr. Jory Brinkerhoff; The Conversation, May 27, 2020